Sports Psychology Tips

Some Free Sports Psychology Tips to help you perform better by leading performance psychologist David Barracosa of Condor Performance

An A to Z Guide To Sports Psychology

An A to Z Guide To Sports Psychology

I have added N to Z below the A to M section so if you’ve already read A to Z then just scroll down. If you don’t already get email notifications from us and would like to please subscribe by completing the form here. Enjoy and forward.

A is for Attitude

It may be surprising but in our work, as sport and performance psychologists we actually don’t refer to attitude much. Attitude is actually just one of the many types of human cognition of which thoughts, beliefs and values are the most common. When a coach refers to an athlete as having a ‘good attitude’ or ‘the right attitude’ he or she is probably suggesting that this athlete’s values and beliefs are roughly in line with their own.

For example, both might regard sporting results as important but not as important as hard work and effort. The most interesting aspect of attitude is it is often assessed via observations (a coach watching an athlete in training) and therefore it is probably body language that is actually being appraised. Attitude, if we take the term literally, is not directly observable as it’s occurring inside the mind.

B is for Body Language

Body language is a fascinating area of performance psychology. Research suggests that it dominates how we communicate compared with the actual words we use. In sporting contexts, this makes even more sense as it is quite normal for their to be little or no verbal communication. With maybe the exception of the captains or leaders of sporting teams, most athletes of most sports don’t say very much during both training and whilst competing.

For this majority, communicating with either teammates or opponents is taking place via the body. By the body, we mean entire body from facial expressions to posture to hand gestures and everything in between. How do you improve body language? I would suggest starting out by filming yourself in a variety of situations and then watch it back with the sound off.

If you’d like some help learning from what you watch then shoot us an email to info@condorperformance.com asking about our 1-on-1 sport and performance psychology services via Skype or FaceTime video.

C is for Consistency

Sometimes we refer to consistency as ‘the holy grail’ of competitive sport. As can be read in this extensive blog by my colleague Chris Pomfret improved consistency is really just the consequence of taking the mental side of your sport (or performance area) seriously.

D is for Determination

Determination is very similar to the mental concept as motivation without being a synonym. Motivation, at least as defined by our coaching philosophy Metuf, is more about enthusiasm, enjoyment, desire and dreams. Determination might be a good word to refer to the actions we continue with during times in which the natural love and enthusiasm for our sport is not there. One of the most common examples of this is when the scoreboard is not in your favour (no way to win with time remaining) and yet you decide to preservative anyway. This is a great example of sporting determination.

E is for Enjoyment

The enjoyment we’re referring to in this instance is the kind that most kids tend to have towards their sport before it becomes ‘serious’. The fun of chasing the ball more than getting to it first. At the time of writing, my children are six and four years of age and are taking part in a variety of sports programs. One of them is Little Kickers, a football/soccer program whereby the fun factor is central to everything they do. The issue is, this enjoyment tends to dissipate once the stakes increase as far too many sporting coaches become far too intense during competitions due to a lack of sports psychology training during their accreditation.

F is for Focus 

Learning to improve focus is actually one of the easier mental skills as it really boils down to knowing when and how to switch on – and then practising this like any other skill. There are many great examples of how to do this but amongst the most effective are the short performance routines that I wrote about in our last blog article. I say easier in comparison to various other mental skills which although very effective can be somewhat critic in nature.

There is no getting away from the fact that training the mind is always going to be a trickier mountain to climb due to the investable nature of what we’re targeting for improvement. For example, areas such as focus.

G is for Grit 

Grit is a term which has gained a lot of momentum recently due mainly to the works of Angela Duckworth (see YouTube video below). Grit is defined via it’s Wikipedia page as a “…non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realisation. Distinct but commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include “perseverance”, “hardiness“, “resilience“, “ambition”, “need for achievement” and “conscientiousness“.

Our monthly clients, as well as long-time readers of the Mental Toughness Digest, will rightly feel that many of these words – perseverance, effort, ambition are very familiar to them as they are cornerstone concepts of Metuf.

H is for Hard Work

There is simply no substitute for hard work. 

I is for Influence

Knowing the amount of influence you have on some of the more common aspects of your sport (or performance areas) is mighty useful. A great little exercise you can do is to start a simple three-column table. The heading of the first column is ‘Lots of Influence’, for the second write “Some Influence” and for the final one label it “Little Influence”.

Now start to fill in the table with whatever comes to mind. For example, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about an upcoming competition combined with memories of how you did at the same venue last year. So you might decide to put the Future in the middle column and the Past in the right-hand column – for instance.

J is for Junior Sport

If I were in charge of sport in a particular state or country I would flip funding so that the vast majority of recourses went into the junior or developmental side of sports. In other words, the best coaches, equipment and facilities normally only accessible to the top 0.1% of athletes would be diverted to athletes under the age of 16.

For example, those regarded as the very best coaches – like Wayne Bennett in rugby league – would be invited to coach junior rugby league players instead. I would make sure that whatever position was created for this had the same or greater salary as top-flight professional coaches.

11 K is for Keeping Going

Maybe the most powerful cue words in sport. Your mind will virtually always quit on you before your body does. Tell it to Keep Going and see what happens.

12 L is for Learning

There is a reason why some of the very best sporting coaches of all time – for example, Jake White – are formers teachers. They treat the process of performance enhancement as one long learning experience for both themselves and their players. The most appealing aspect of this angle is that poor performances are used as learning opportunities. Errors, for example, are considered as invaluable elements of feedback – data that can be used to inform better choices moving forward. 

13 M is for Monitoring

If you are not monitoring at least one aspect of your endeavours you’re missing out. At Condor Performance we encourage our sporting and non-sporting clients to record one or more “monthly checks”. As can be read in detail from this recent blog post these monthly checks are like our key performance indicators. As long as you know the right number of monthly checks to monitor (not too many) and the amount of influence you have on each of these results (not as much as you think) there is zero downsides to this kind of self-monitoring and plenty of upsides.


N is for Numbers

Whether you like it or not competitive sport – especially at the elite level – is full of numbers. In fact certain sports, like cricket and baseball are so mathematical in nature that the coaches of these sports would be forgiven for thinking of themselves more like statisticians from time to time. This is one of the reasons why we encourage our monthly clients to monitor their own progress – to allow them to function, even thrive in a results-oriented world. The other reasons have already been mentioned above in the M for monitoring.

O is for Objectivity

Both the M and the N above help with objectively but alone might not be enough. Objectively is roughly the opposite of subjectively with the latter being heavy on opinions with the former much more based on facts. For example, it’s quite normal for athletes and coaches to assess past performances based mostly (or only) on memory or even worse, based on the final result. This is highly subjective and a bit like any human pursuit we’d want to be careful about how much of our analysis is subjective. Objective analysis – for example, the number of missed tackles –  will be more valuable as the numbers don’t lie.

Actually, this is not true – numbers can lie but are less likely to do so than opinions.

P is for Pressure

‘Pressure’ is one of the most fascinating aspects of sports psychology. For a start, it’s 100% internal – it’s a feeling with very real physiological sensations – a little bit like hunger. Because it’s going on inside it’s less tangible and therefore harder to manage. To start with, it’s really important not to consider pressure as being good or bad. Let me use hunger to explain. Hunger, for most of us, is simply a signal for us to go an eat something. Once we do, the hunger goes away. The food that alleviates the hunger that is pressure is practice. That’s right, high-quality practice is like a pile of organic veggies.

Of course, there is also a benefit to learning to deal with hunger/pressure in case there is no food/practice available. By far the best way to do this – in my opinion – is to work with a qualified sport/performance psychologist like one of the members of our team.

Q is for Quantity and Quality

This is how we break down practice or effort. Quantity is ‘how much’ and wants to be in the right amount. Quality is how good and wants to be as high as possible. We often find it useful to multiply these together. For example, if the highest score for each is 10 then combined the highest score is 100.

What number did your last training session get?

R is for Routines

See my recent blog post for a full break down on routines.

S is for Stigma

There are still a huge number of people out there whose beliefs about what sports psychologists or performance psychologists do get in the way of us being able to help them. The stigma comes from the word ‘psychologist’ which too many people still associate with having some kind of mental problem. The general premise of working with a psychologist being a sign of weakness needs to be broken. A band-aid solution to this is to refer to ourselves as a coach or performance coaches or mental skills trainers instead. The issue with this is it doesn’t help to remove the stigma. Also, it seems a pity not to be able to use the title psychologist that took us seven or so years to earn.

T is for Time Management

Being able to manage your own time, your needs and your wants is one of the most underrated of all mental skills. I work with a LOT of young elite athletes (teenagers on track to be the world’s best in their chosen sport) and on the whole, they come to me with either poor or non-existent time management skills. Sometimes, a simple suggestion like buying a $5 diary to start recording upcoming commitments can do wonders in terms of accountability, planning, knowing when to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to invitations and moving their mindset more towards effort and further from results.

U is for Unity

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve the team unity of your team then watch the Unity video from the Metuf online program by clicking here.

V is for Values and W is for Why

Our values and beliefs guide our thoughts so if you’d like to update your daily thought processes then it can be a good idea to think about your values. By values, we really mean what you consider to be valuable or important. A nice little exercise to get the ball rolling is to simply list everything you consider to be important in your life and why. For example, you might write ‘8 hours of sleep a night’ and follow that with ‘because it helps me get the most of various training sessions the following day’. The ‘why’ part is very important as this links our endeavours to our internal motivation.

X is for eXcellence

Are you striving for excellence? Do you want to become excellent at what you do? How would you define and measure excellence? Is your training excellence? Do you know how to increase your chances of becoming the best possible athlete or coach you can be? If not get in touch and we’ll lend you a hand.

Y is for Yourself

One of the best ways of helping others is to look after yourself first.

Z is for Zest

Zest is one of the traits that we look for when we are interviewing psychologists looking to join our team of sport and performance psychologists. Do they have a passion for sports and helping athletes and coaches become better versions of themselves? If not, getting up at 5 am to deliver a Skype session to a monthly client from another country might just prove to be too hard.

This Thing Called Culture

David Barracosa, Performance Psychologist from Condor Performance, discusses ‘culture’ in the aftermath of the ball tampering scandal in Australia.

The "Culture" of Aussie Cricket was tested and questioned in 2018.
The “Culture” of Aussie Cricket was tested and questioned in 2018.

Note: This article was written and published before major improvements were made in late 2018 to Metuf – the name given to the collection of mental skills that we use with our sporting and non-sporting clients. Due to this, the 5th paragraph mentions Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency. In the latest version of Metuf, these have been replaced by Motivation, Emotions, Thoughts, Unity and Focus. For more information about Metuf please visit The Metuf Online homepage.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to read the previous edition of the Mental Toughness Digest would have been introduced to the story of Thomas, the young fisherman. The interesting part of Thomas’ story from a Mental Toughness perspective was that despite him not catching any fish for 14 days straight he maintained a motivation for the sport due to his focus on and enjoyment of the process. Reading this got me thinking about how this story of an individual would relate on a bigger scale to either a sporting team/organisation or even for an individual sports athlete training within their camp. It’s my belief this is where one of the biggest buzzwords in sports at the moment comes into the discussion – ‘culture’.

The idea of culture has been spoken about extensively recently due to the ball tampering saga that came over the Australian Cricket Team during their recent tour of South Africa. After the dust had settled and the individuals who were responsible for the act were handed down their punishments, a lot of questions were still being asked about how a group of highly regarded / paid professional athletes could have ended up in a predicament such as this?

What was going through their minds and through the locker room that led them to making such a decision? The talk switched from individual motivations to team culture and the importance of this mental element within the fabric of sport was, and potentially still is, being debated in social and professional sporting circles. Before I go on I wish to acknowledge that not every Australian cricketer was involved in the act of ball tampering and their names should not be smeared as a result. However, every Australian cricket player, coach, official and any other support staff has a role within and a responsibility to the culture within the team.

Culture is the collective mentality and values of a particular organisation and group of people.

It is something that can be inherited from those who were previously members of the said organisation but can also be quite fluid as some individuals depart and new individuals join. The right culture should never be “assumed”. A culture of sorts will always exist when a group of people come together and form a team whether they’re active in creating it in their preferred way or by letting it happen naturally. I’m of the opinion that it is something that should be named openly among everyone and worked on actively so each individual associated with the organisation can have a sense of ownership and pride over what they have created. Not only this but a strong and positive sense of culture also gives the organisation an identity; provides a guiding light to the individuals that can both be used as a motivator as well as creating a sense of accountability for everyone’s individual actions; can promote the wellbeing of an individual as they can feel accepted and belong; and, maybe the biggest thing of all, gives everyone the chance to develop a strong sense of each of Other Cs of Mental Toughness (Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency).

If you are a leader of a team, or even a member of one, I hope as you read through the list of consequences that come from creating the right culture it gets you thinking about your organisation and what you can be doing to create an environment where all of this is possible. If this is the case, then my recommendation is that you waste no time in creating a situation where people can begin to contribute to a discussion and the shared values of the organisation can be formalised. From our perspective, one of the key things that should be kept in mind and included within the process is that we can only control our efforts and therefore the culture and pursuits of the organisation should focus on giving people the opportunity to achieve consistent and high quality effort, rather than having an obsession with results. People often talk about a “winning culture” within a team but for us, if this idea of “winning” is only focusing on the results you attain then you leave yourself and your organisation vulnerable when things are not going to plan, something it’s fair to say occurred for those individuals within the Australian Cricket Team. The team can have goals that strive towards certain achievements but along the way the true reward and meaning comes from how the team and individuals within it worked towards their achievements, not what was reached at the end of the road. Think about Thomas and his fishing endeavours.

A big part of our role when we work with an organisation is helping them to create discussion and opportunities that drive the ideas of culture for themselves. Every organisation is different and if you wish to discuss how you can achieve the right things for culture within your organisation then we would love to hear from you.

This article was written several months before a review into the culture of Australian cricket was released. The full review can be viewed or downloaded below in PDF format.

What Now? Post Career Challenges for Elite Athletes

Performance Psychologist ‘David Barracosa’ looks at one of the biggest mental challenges faced by elite sportspeople – what to do after they retire.

Do You Know What You'll Do Once You Retire ?
Do You Know What You’ll Do Once You Retire ?

The processes and challenges of adjusting to life after sport for elite athletes were highlighted in a recent episode of 4 Corners that aired on the ABC in Australia; After The Game. The episode made it clear that improvements aren’t just needed during the period after retirement, but also in the work done with athletes during their career in order to prepare them for the inevitable.

One of the interesting things the athletes discussed was the juggling act between investing the necessary time and energy into achieving their sporting goals while also making sure there were avenues and pathways in place when they either chose to retire or were forced to do so. This is a common concern for anyone chasing a significant and challenging goal, but the work we do with people on goal setting acknowledges this exact point.

One of the suggestions we make for people when setting their long-term or season goal is that it can be a good idea to make it more holistic rather than just focusing on sport. So, instead of the long-term goal being “sign a professional contract with an English Premier League club” or “be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft” it might be more meaningful to target “life satisfaction” as the long-term goal. We are in no way ignoring the importance of an individual’s sporting goal because it would make up one of the monthly checks that would be reviewed and evaluated to ensure that progress is made and is leading towards life satisfaction or happiness. This is a valuable adjustment because it acknowledges that sport is a key contributor to your overall well being, but also asks the question of what else contributes to this experience. Examples of these other monthly checks might be improving health, building stronger relationships, or even the concept of TOTIWBEA.

TOTIWBEA stands for The Other Thing I Want to Be Excellent At and it can be anything you want it to be. It can be another sport, an alternate career, pathway of education, relationship, or anything else you can come up with. The reason it’s so important is that it prevents an athlete or coach from being defined solely by their sport. This is dangerous because when the sport is gone, so to is an individual’s identity unless they have other meaningful areas in their life which TOTIWBEA can help create. To use an old cliche, we simply don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.

The balance that can be created through a pursuit of TOTIWBEA or just reformatting someone’s goals to acknowledge sport as part of a bigger picture can be critical to on-field performance. People who have multiple passions and gain meaning/value from different areas of their lives are less likely to be significantly impacted by pressures as their experience of it is spread out across several areas of their life. What this means is that if you happen to be struck down by injury or are on the cusp of being dropped from the first team, for example, and sport is the sole focus and contributor to your well being, the stress of this is going to have a more significant impact than on an individual who places similar importance on building relationships or their pursuit of education. These other areas can provide support and structure for you to manage the stress while still moving in a positive direction in your life. It’s probably worth saying that a lot of people do have these other areas but if they aren’t given the recognition or highlighted as important then their benefits can be missed.

The other factor in helping on-field performance is that the stress experienced through a lack of balance can also impact on an athlete’s quality and quantity of effort. What we tend to notice in individuals is that when their stress becomes significant and they don’t have balance the quality of their effort drops. When this happens they start to increase the quantity that they are putting in to make up the difference, which unfortunately leaves less time for the other areas of their life. This creates further imbalance and makes it more difficult to achieve satisfaction in these other meaningful domains. One advantage of setting up your Four Improvment Areas so that sport along with the other meaningful areas makes up the monthly checks is that you are able to make decisions regarding how much time each of these areas receives in a week.

The final suggestion about managing this important area of an athlete’s performance is not for them but actually for coaches, administrators and potentially other psychologists. While our role is to help athletes work towards creating the best opportunities to achieve their sporting goals, we can’t ignore the fact that it is not forever. In a lot of sports, playing professionally at 40 years of age is an anomaly. There a lot of years post-retirement for an athlete to continue to have a meaningful life. We need to have honest conversations and point out the importance of balance because this may be lost for an athlete in their pursuit of excellence. They aren’t easy conversations, but they may prove to be the most important.

Mindfulness For Sport

Mindfulness (focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations) is a key performance mental skill.

Do you practice mindfullness?
Mindfulness (focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations) is a key performance mental skill

The Power of The Present Moment

In every sport and performance area, there is a significant number of variables and factors that ultimately affect performance and results. Obviously, one of our jobs at Condor Performance (Applied Sport and Performance Psychologists) is to make sure that our clients have direct access to the mental skills that are most likely to help with these variables.

One such variable we encourage the athletes and coaches we work with to focus on during training and competition is the present moment. It is here where we have the best opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves.

What I tend to notice when discussing the present moment with people is that the old cliche of “one step/shot/swing/etc. at a time” is commonly brought up. However, without any commitment to a change in behaviour this belief merely acts as a “bumper sticker” mental skill. It is this point I want to focus on for this edition of the Mental Toughness Digest. In doing so I’ll identify further strategies to help you remain in the ‘here and now’ so that you have the best possible influence on your performances.

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge a view that I’ve heard that some of the more stop-start sports such as golf, tennis, cricket and volleyball, are better ‘organically’ for staying in the present because the sport is naturally broken down into smaller events (single point or shot). During the period between these events, athletes are able to apply strategies such as pre-performance routines to ensure they are in the best position to achieve optimal focus.

However, I believe this doesn’t paint the complete picture of resetting and staying in the moment. With some creativity and thought the ability to do this is both applicable and extremely valuable in all sports.

It has such a high value because it can benefit us in a number of different ways regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Being able to bring ourselves back to the present moment by finding opportunities to break the match/game/race down into smaller events can act like the mental reset button we long for when things aren’t going our way. It allows us to stop stress or nerves from continuously building as we aren’t getting overwhelmed by what’s to come as our mind is focused on achieving technical and tactical excellence in the short term. By doing so, it can increase our confidence as there is a greater ability to manage these short-term targets, giving us the chance to correct any errors and halt negative momentum from developing. It also allows us to move on from a mistake and not get caught ruminating or hesitating due to disappointment from past actions.

On the other hand, it can also be useful in maintaining positive momentum as it keeps our mind focussed and reduces the chance of complacency in our performance. We remain in the driver’s seat because we are actively searching for opportunities to push ourselves and play with high quality throughout our sporting contest. So essentially, it can be used as both a corrective skill when things are not going our way as well as a preventative skill to provide us with the best chance of optimal performance.

Even In Dynamic Team Sports

All sports have natural points of change or checkpoints that lend themselves to being associated with breaking sport down and applying a mental skill at these times. In basketball, this could be crossing half court when possession changes, in football (soccer) when there is a free kick or throw in, in rugby codes when possession changes hands and you are lining up offensively or defensively, or even in swimming when you push off the wall to start the next lap. As you can see, these moments don’t have to be long because the skills we want to apply are designed to be simple and effective. We don’t want to create more issues by overthinking or feeling pressure to work through a checklist of items each time this occurs. What we do want is a phrase or word that reflects the effort or application we want to have during the next portion of our performance, which is controllable and therefore increases the likelihood that it’s going to happen. Some examples for these thoughts could be: saying “post up aggressively” in basketball when transitioning to offence, in swimming it could be “pull through the water”, or in football “make yourself available”. These thoughts reset our focus to something that aids performance and reminds us of how we intend to play based on our preparations. They will be different for each person, but are common in that they are solutions based and reflect the style we want to perform with.

If you’d like to ‘dip your toes’ into some more Mindfulness related techniques for sport and performance then skip straight to the Emotions section of Metuf for Sports by clicking here.

The Psychology of Sports Injuries

The Psychology of Sports Injuries is a short article exploring the mental aspects of a very common physical challenge faced by athletes – getting injured

The psychology of sports injuries is a great example of the fact that coaching can’t – and shouldn’t exist in a bubble/silo – ideally, performance psychologists work with physical experts such as physiotherapists and exercise physiologists to manage both the mental and physical challenges of rehabiliation. This is one of the reasons why we are so proud of our working relationship with BaiMed Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic located across various parts of New South Wales. It just makes so much sense to do it this way.

David Barracosa – 13th September 2019
The Psychology of Sports Injuries is one of the most common mental challenges
Sporting injuries are understandably regarded as the exclusive domain of physiotherapists yet there is growing evidence that the challenges are just as psychological in nature.

Introduction

The psychology of sports injuries is not exactly the same as the ones that can occur in non-sporting situations. For a start, they are much more likely to occur. High contact sports such as AFL, both rugby codes and American football are fraught with injuries. Secondly, the impact on goals and dreams of injuries for athletes are greater than for non-sporting performers. I am very mindful hat serious injuries can, of course, derail all types of dreams. However a dentist can still go to work with a torn ACL, a soccer player can’t. Hence the title of this article is The Psychology of Sports Injuries and not The Psychology of Injuries.

A large portion of what we write for the Digest is aimed at athletes who are in top physical condition. So what happens when you are get an unexpected injury and suddenly you are struggling both physically and mentally? This can be one of the most mentally challenging experiences athletes and performers face. Having a handful of tools and strategies to help you manage the journey can truly make a significant difference.

The Psychology of Sports Injuries is one of the most common of all mental challenges

I know first hand the mental pain and frustration athletes go through. In 2016 I ruptured my ACL for the second time and did 9-months of rehab. It’s interesting, though, because this frustration and emotion can come from a number of different places.

  • Disappointment and regret that the injury has occurred
  • Wondering what you could have done differently to prevent it
  • Watching your teammates still competing while you’re in a cast or brace
  • The setbacks or bad news you may receive along the journey
  • The fear that when you’re allowed to play you will find a way to injure yourself again.

With all of these thought patterns it’s crucial you have space where you can express these emotions. There’s nothing wrong with feeling the way you do – if fact it normal. After all, one of the major aspects of your life has just hit a major speedbump. As psychologists, our job is to help injured athletes turn that frustration into motivation.

One way we help our sidelined sporting clients do this is to talk about effort more than results.

All the statements I mentioned earlier exist outside of our bubble of responsibility because they are either influenceable or uninfluenceable.

They revolve around things such as the past, other people and the future. When we’re committing to our rehabilitation process we want to be sure our mind is focused on what we can control. This typically is our effort to our intended actions in the present moment.

By being injured we are restricted in our movements and achieving certain results – but we are not dead.

Developing An Optimal Mindset

The rewards and satisfaction from applying yourself to a gym or physiotherapy session can be just as motivating. It’s worth remembering that when you got the injury it was only your body [part] that was actually hurt – not your brain.

This development of confidence is also a key part of the rehabilitation process. It is important both in regaining skills confidence and in the part of my body that had been injured. We want to be able to trust that once we start competing again, our bodies will hold up. We don’t want to become distracted about the possibility of reinjury.

There are many mental strategies we can use that help us develop this confidence. They often revolve around the way we mentally map out the rehabilitation journey.

Baby Steps

A good way of viewing the situation is by seeing it as a process of stepping stones. Some of these stepping stones are going to be about our physical capabilities (strength, fitness and flexibility). Others are going to be very skill-set related.

The combination of these provides the complete picture of what is required for us to be at full capacity again. Each time we jump from one stone to the next this is another achievement and boost in our confidence that we’re heading in the right direction and further strengthens the trust we have in our body. This way of breaking things down doesn’t mean the journey won’t be challenging but allows it to be much more realistic and achievable. It also allows us to problem solve at a much more manageable level when things aren’t going our way.

Once we have successfully completed this rehabilitation journey and are ready to step back onto the field, we may be faced with new mental challenges. We may ask ourselves “Can I still compete at this level?”, “Am I ready?” or even “Have I done enough to be here?”.

You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

In taking the time to break down the journey into smaller parts and continually keeping the focus on the controllables, it allows us not only to develop the physical readiness to step out onto the field but also the mental readiness. Each stage along the way has allowed us to mentally keep track of the work we are doing and the achievements we have made.

Keep our expectations of the match focused on the controllables and not expect ourselves to do what we could the last time we were here but rather thinking about what the work we have done off the field has positioned us to do. In other words, applying our best effort to our intended actions in the present moment. Taking care of this ensures we remain in touch with ourselves throughout the match and play to the level we have prepared for.

Are you an athlete with an injury? If you are and wish to discuss the mental side of your rehabilitation then please get in touch. You can email me directly and confidentially at david@condorperformance.com. I would love to help and be a part of your journey back to full fitness.

Note that ‘The Psychology of Sports Injuries’ was first written in 2016 but updated twice in 2019.

How To Handle Racism In Sport

One of our performance psychologists, David, chats to Rod and Ian (ABC radio) about the tricky issue of how to handle racism in elite sport.

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

Rod:                                            Adam Good’s issue, I guess, what to have people saying are we overdoing it, and this is what I said at the outset, you know, I wonder if we are. Yet I thought the other side of this program is really to, it’s a review program, it’s a weekend review. So that’s possibly what we’re trying to do here rather than percolate it along a bit further. I don’t know if we’re succeeding in that.

Ian:                                             Well I want to see, well first off I wanted to look at the sort of car crash that was the event, but also to see what the … where now. And perhaps our next guest might be able to throw some logs on that. Rod?

Rod:                                            Yeah. David Barracosa, whose Performance Psychologist from the Condor Performance Center I think it is, and he’s with his son via phone. David, good morning.

David Barracosa:              Good morning, thank you for having me.

Rod:                                            Now I don’t … thank you. Now I don’t know if you’ve been listening so far to our conversation?

David Barracosa:              Yeah David I’ve Been listening to certain parts of it, yes.

Rod:                                            The parts you like, you mean?

Ian:                                             Now David … I’m curious now, how would Adam Goods be feelings today when he saw the outpouring of support from clubs across Australia and also principally from his own club?

David Barracosa:              I think mainly the feelings that he would have would be around support and I think feeling, I suppose a sense of community? Like what the teams have done, the arm bands, the banners, the indigenous rounds doing decent work put on by rich, and I think it’s overwhelming feelings of support, I think would be his main experience today I think.

Rod:                                            What is it … that obviously would make him feel much better, I should imagine. But was it a conscious effort to try and make him feel better?

David Barracosa:              I think maybe it’s not necessarily just for Adam Good, but I think you hear about the impact it’s having on players beyond him as well. In the game, especially with him doing things like that. I think it was more looking at how do we um unite regarding this issue and how do kind of want to get it hence that sense of community. I don’t necessarily know what was specifically designed, like with certain things obviously the wearing of the number thirty-seven [inaudible 00:02:13]. One minute standing ovation but I think also it’s just looking at how do we intro everyone, feel supported regarding this issue.

Rod:                                            Yeah it’s amazing it’s such a dichotomy really because, I mean even in the AFL general season there is a indigenous round to celebrate the indigenous players and there is quite a few of them-

David Barracosa:              Mark legend rugby league.

Rod:                                            That’s right yeah, of course.

Ian:                                             So how would he feel do you think presumably he comes back next week and he comes out of the tunnel what do you think his mind set would be at that stage.

David Barracosa:              Well I think that’s an important thing and I think one of the big things that listening to all this and of the sport and performance psychology perspective. I think you need the biggest thing for Adam Goodwin would be what he is focused on, what his concentration is on and I think part of the support staff. One of the things they have to really work on is preparing him for football rather than preparing him for crowd reaction. Because crowd reaction and things like that are I suppose in a way um not necessarily things that we can control but one of the things we can is how do we focus ourselves on things like our effort the part of football we want to be playing. And I think you see more walking out of the tunnel with that type of mind set he is in a good position to I think play with like playing the way we have seen him play in the past

Rod:                                            Sorry mate could I, could I just focus in on just one thing as a psychologist yourself a performance psychologist put yourself in John Long mire’s shoes today and as you go into another week and maybe the match next weekend with Goods playing what would you as John Longmire be saying to him.

David Barracosa:              I think, well one of the biggest things I’ve been talking to him about is where his head is at with all of this. And I think only Adam Good would really know what he’s feeling and what he’s experiencing in regards to this so as his coach as one of the arcane member of the support staff I’d be wanting to know where are you at, what are you feeling at the moment, what’s going through your mind regarding-

Rod:                                            So you’d be listening, you’d be listening rather than talking.

David Barracosa:              Yeah I think initially definitely, I think initially with when it comes to issues, I mean it’s not this particular issue, but any kinda player welfare issue. I would wanna know where my player is at with that, what is going on for them and then how do I, how do I support them.

Speaker 4:                              Isn’t a part of the problem now, let’s take it as red that next Saturday he runs out onto the field with in effect everyone in the crowd at least at one level or another really wanting him to succeed. I mean obviously half the crowd won’t want him to succeed In the sense of losing. But they certainly don’t want to see him humiliated, or put down, or anything like that. But then we get to another imponderable, which is his capacity, his performance, what the opposition is like all of those other things. Now I know what’s in your head is vitally important I’m not disputing that but its also a game in which there a whole oust of imponderables. And if not everything is in sink, ya know if the other side doesn’t surrender immediately to the power and charm of the Sidney Swans, what happens then.

David Barracosa:              Well I don’t think failure is how you define that. Like for us one of the big things, and I think its on of the things we work with almost all of our athletes on is a lot of the problem we talk about expectations and weight of the expectations is very much focused on [inaudible 00:05:53] result the amount of disposal, the amount of goals we keep, the amount of scores and swears. One thing that I would like to talk to him about is, let’s try and create expectations regarding how you play the game rather than your output. And I know that the rest of the crowd, and the rest of the media, won’t look at it that way but for these guys that’s gonna be something that I think [inaudible 00:06:15] play the way that he is able to, and try to not count how many times he gets involved or how many goals did he keep, which is everyone else’s. So once again he cannot control that.

Speaker 4:                              David thee, I um agree with that, but there is an incredible propensity on the part of Australians that to think if we lost the cricket badly this week and a Michael Clark didn’t perform well then he is a bad person, then rather he didn’t perform well or something like that. We judge people by results, it’s a very competitive thing out. In that sort of sense the Adam Good story won’t end until we decide at the end of his sporting career whether he was a fabulous hero-

Ian:                                             But he’s not being moved cause he’s a loser. You cannot imagine a more winning individual in that sport.

Rod:                                            And that’s where it’s so contradictory really isn’t. It is.

Ian:                                             That’s the bewildering thing I mean do you bewilder by it David.

David Barracosa:              Yeah I think um, it’s something from my perspective like you kind of watch and you listen to it, and it does kinda leave you scratching your head from time to time. Because you look at the credentials of the man, you look at what he’s done to the AFL community, and the community in a border sense as well. Yeah I think, I think naturally I’m scratching my head kind of wondering-

Ian:                                             Does this dilemma have an effect on the rest of the team, can players be agnostic about what’s happening to their teammates around them or are they affected by it.

Speaker 4:                              Your confidence is affected by whether Don Bradman is playing with you or not.

Rod:                                            That’s David.

David Barracosa:              Yeah I think, I think definitely the other team you do, especially when a leader of your team, is impacted in a way or is affected in the way that he has been. I Think you do I suppose listen to that, and you are aware of that. And I think one of the big things, and I think there are two things that need to be really aware of here and its that, the support staff needs to not only support Adam Good but needs to support the rest of the team. I think it’s important that they also have their time to be able to debrief you saw kind of Louis Getter pay tribute you saw the guys kinda of um, they’re thinking about it and you wanna make sure that thinking about it doesn’t turn into a massive distraction on the field they got away with a good performance yesterday but you don’t want to carry you on and eventually them in any way.

Rod:                                            Alright great to talk to you David, and thanks so much for your time on a Sunday morning we really appreciate it.

David Barracosa:              Well thanks for having me again.

Rod:                                            Yeah thank you. David Barracosa who’s a performance psychologist from Condor Performance.

Precocious Sporting Talents

David Barracosa, Senior Performance Psychologist from Condor Performance, speaks to Fiona Wyllie (ABC) about ‘precocious sporting talents’.

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

Fiona:                                        Good afternoon this is Statewide Drive, 24 to 5:00 now and if you are earning the really high wages elite sports people earn, do you have a responsibility to entertain as well? Or if you know you’re about to lose why not get out of the ballpark as soon as you can? Nick Curious says Don Fraze’s comments about him tanking at Wimbledon are racist. Did you hear them on the Today show?

Dawn Frazer:                        I think it’s absolute disgusting. I just am so shocked to think that he went out there to play and he tanked, he did all that tanking. That’s terrible. That’s not a good Australian sports person and I do believe that Tennis Australia have done the right thing by saying that they’re not allowed to play in the David Cup. They’re two of the best players that we’ve had for a long while and sure, you might get upset but now tennis has changed so much. I think they’re getting so much money, Carl, and I just think that they’re a disgrace for Australian sports and women.

Speaker 3:                              Is it a case of these stars have got so much money and so much fame so early Dawn, that things like humility and striving to achieve is something that’s just kind of disappeared from the way they think they should be presented to the public?

Dawn Frazer:                        I agree with you Lisa, I think that’s the whole thing that brought too much money at a very early age. They’re being ill-advised by their management and they should be setting a better example for the younger generation of this country, the great country of ours. If they don’t like it go back to where their fathers or their parents came from. We don’t need them here in this country they’re acting like that. We’ve gotta set a very good example for the younger children that playing all these sports. And I can’t see them wanting to be recognized when they get to my age. People won’t wanna talk to them.

Fiona:                                        Dawn Frazer talking on the Today show and her words certainly making some headlines around our country this afternoon. My number is 1-300 double six double two seven nine or send a text on zero four six seven, nine double two six eight four. Let’s talk about elite athletes and what’s going through their mind when they’re on sanded court or one of the important courts in the sporting world around the world. David Barracosa is at Condor Performance, a performance psychologist. David hello.

David Barracosa:              Hi Fiona, how are you?

Fiona:                                        I’m very well thanks. Now along the way, are manners anything to do with how we train our sports people?

David Barracosa:              I think it’s quite interesting because when you’re looking at athlete development and things like that often the technical side of things, the physical side of things are given a lot of attention. The mental side of things I think tend at times to be underdone for people which were manners would come into it, etiquette, humility, those type of things but also just helping younger athletes learn what’s important to focus on, what’s important to I suppose keep their mind occupied with rather than some of these distractions and variables that you see elicit really strong emotions and the behaviours that you’re talking about on your radio station today.

Fiona:                                        In the end it is a sport. They’re playing a game. Do we take it all far too seriously? Or do they to get the kind of results they do and be it that sort of standard have to take it very very seriously?

David Barracosa:              I think it is a bit important to take it seriously but I think it’s even, a lot of people are talking about results and scores and what they’re achieving whereas I think for some of these younger athletes I think part of it is about being in the process of actually just playing tennis. It’s about the effort that they need to execute to play this sport well and I think the results come with that but I think sometimes we put the wagon in front of the horse and we get a bit carried away with what are they achieving whereas they are, it is a sport, it is something that is provided entertainment for many moons in the past and I think it’s about how do we help athletes?

David Barracosa:              And sometimes even coaches, how do we help coaches help their athletes to kind of bring it back to those basic elements that allow them to play at such a high level rather than just focusing on what they’re scoring at the end.

Fiona:                                        Because there is a great deal of entertainment in someone trying their best even if they don’t win. We love that don’t we? As sports enthusiasts?

David Barracosa:              Yeah definitely. I think at the end of the day we do kind of get hooked on these sports and we do love watching these entertainers of the game. Some of them very different in their styles. And I think that’s something important to consider. I don’t think everyone’s gonna have the same style in which they approach their sport. People are gonna be much more sort of outgoing and flamboyant about the way they do things, other people are gonna be much more grounded in the way that they do it. But I think it is about especially from what I’ve heard throughout the media today, I think a key element is are we seeing the effort from athletes? Are athletes giving the upmost effort that they can be, no matter what their style is or how their level of play is. Are they fighting to the very end?

David Barracosa:              And I think that’s I suppose a big consideration from a sport and performance psychology perspective is around are they able to do that.

Fiona:                                        Okay, if one of your clients was throwing rackets around what would you be saying to them about the energy expended on that?

David Barracosa:              Yeah I think if one of our clients at Condor Performance, if they were to go about doing that, I think we’d first wanna sit down and talk to them about what is going through your mind that’s leading to that? What’s creating such a frustration and emotion? And usually what we find is the thing behind it all, it’s usually things outside of their control. It’s things like umpires, it’s things like the last point, the other opponent hitting a fantastic win. I remember the crowd saying something et cetera. But what we wanna bring their attention back to is them. Because often it’s what they want to do and what they are willing to put into it that helps manage that emotion, but it’s so easy and I think we do it in all walks of life but especially in sports.

David Barracosa:              We get kind of really hooked up on those external factors that I suppose make it hard for us to play consistently and play with that mental consistency that I think’s so important and that’s something that were trying to constantly instil in our athletes is that mental consistency so you don’t see the lapses where people are taking it out on a piece of equipment or their racket because they’re unable to focus on the things that are really important.

Fiona:                                        Or the crowd, or the umpire as you said. And wasting that energy that could be used for getting an ace.

David Barracosa:              Yes. And I think not only wasting the energy but I think you watch the opponent last night, you watch Richard Gaska in the way that he responded, I think you can sometimes instil more confidence in your opponent. So not only are you losing energy you’re kind of taking the focus away from what you’re trying to do. You’re in a way giving energy to the opponent who’s seeing that and wants to take full advantage of that. On the flip side that’s what we’re telling our athletes is how do you keep your consistency going and not get caught up in that and I think that’s a mental skill in of itself as well.

Fiona:                                        So if you were smiling and looking like you’re not gonna get me, that is a method of getting one up against your opponent rather than losing it.

David Barracosa:              Well I think confidence, and I think confidence is something that’s so clearly visible in someone’s body language. The way someone carries themselves, the way someone even some of the self-talk that you hear the athletes doing like the come on’s of [inaudible 00:08:00] in the past and things like that. It does send a very strong message. And we don’t want people to be too focused on their opponent ’cause once again that’s an external variable that is gonna take you away from your game, but as a player if you can carry yourself with confidence and you can maintain that for long periods of time I think it does wonders not only for you and what your mindset is doing at that point in time but just your condition in that match as well. I think it does do a lot for your vibe that you’re sending out as well as I suppose the ebb and flows of the match itself.

Fiona:                                        David if you’ve got a couple of minutes to hear from our callers?

David Barracosa:              Yeah definitely.

Fiona:                                        Oh great. Patrick, hello.

Patrick:                                    Hi Fiona, how you going?

Fiona:                                        I’m well. You’ve got a story from your sporting days.

Patrick:                                    No not from my sporting days but in regard to defenders of Nick saying he was under a lot of stress. A few days ago I played a [inaudible 00:08:54] rugby player and writer told a story about the great cricketing man from the ’50s Case Miller, who’d been a battle of Britain Parlor I should say. And in a particularly tight test match a journalist asked him how much stress he was under. And he said stress, this isn’t stress. When you’ve got a [inaudible 00:09:17] up your rear end at 20,000 feet, that’s stress.

Fiona:                                        Putting it in perspective Patrick, thank you very much.

Patrick:                                    Thank you.

Fiona:                                        Buh bye. John’s in Port McCory, hello.

John:                                          Hello, how you going?

Fiona:                                        I’m well. You think that Dawn Frazer has said some things that she shouldn’t of?

John:                                          I think so. I think you can’t say that somebody should go back to their own country and that we’ve gotta better stand the behavior here or not. We’re all humans, we’re all fallible. I think that was just a bit [inaudible 00:09:52] really.

Fiona:                                        Okay.

John:                                          I think we’re all cut with the same brush and I think Paul only curious, Paul’s a young black. Come on. Give him a bit of a break and a lot of [inaudible 00:10:07] mistakes in life.

Fiona:                                        John thanks for calling. Greg from [inaudible 00:10:12] says most of what Dawn said made sense but she just blew it with a stupid comment about going back to where their parents came from. And Greg goes on to say I bet she’s regretting it now.

John:                                          Yeah I’d agree with that I think, yeah.

Fiona:                                        Thanks John. Someone else saying they think that Curious and Tomack are okay. Jack says the behavior of some of these young male tennis players is appalling, makes me feel ashamed to be Australian. From Dominic, arrogance and impatience are a downfall of many coupled with money and success and you have a recipe for disaster. Limit the payment to youngsters with increments applying, the remainder they get on retirement coupled with behavior training. Well that’s what we’re talking about with you isn’t it David?

David Barracosa:              I’d say that’s spot on.

Fiona:                                        Is the money thing a big part of it do you think?

David Barracosa:              I think the money thing, I think it really does depend on the person. I think there’s so many factors that are needed to be considered when it comes to money. I think that it’s spoken about a lot in the states with young college athletes and stepping to the pros. A lot of these like tennis and golf or a lot of youngsters can kind of make a lot of money very quickly, I think money does put pressure on people and it can change a person but I think if you’re able to have a certain character, if you’re able to have the right support people in place around you, I think you can kind of manage those sort of changes to your lifestyle and changes to I suppose the circumstances you find yourself in.

Fiona:                                        What about the power of ego? Because Judy from Round Mountain says Tomak and Curious will never be champions. Their egos will stop them from achieving what they are capable of.

David Barracosa:              Yeah and I think that’s quite an interesting one because I think it’s where, it’s that kind of line between someone having really strong confidence and self-belief and then that line where it steps into being kind of egotistical and things like that. I think for the athletes you want to see them where they have that I suppose self-awareness and self-acknowledgement, self-confidence but you don’t want it to be that it becomes I just rest on that. You wanna see people constantly applying themselves and I think that’s sometimes where some young athletes, and even some old athletes to tell you the truth, fold down when it comes to the ego. It keeps them from being champions because they don’t put the work in, they don’t put the effort in to I suppose achieve the next level and achieve the next kind of step up in their sport which only hard work and dedication can get you at the end of the day.

Fiona:                                        David good to talk to you, thank you very much for joining us.

David Barracosa:              Terrific thank you for having me.

Fiona:                                        David Barracosa who’s from Condor Performance and is a performance psychologist talking about one of our young tennis stars. It is 11:05, you’re with Fiona Wiley on Statewide Drive.

Speaker 7:                              On the next Conversations …

Speaker 8:                              Garth Calendar was a junior officer with the Australian Army in Iraq. One morning his crew was targeted in a roadside bomb attack and Garth became Australia’s first serious casualty in the war. He recovered, returned to Iraq, and then volunteered for Afghanistan to prevent the kind of bomb attacks that had nearly killed him.

Speaker 7:                              Join Sara Konosky for Conversations, tomorrow morning from 11:00 on ABC New South Wales.

Fiona:                                        Good afternoon, you’re with Statewide Drive and we’ve been talking about tennis players. Pete is in Nambucca Heads, hello Peter.

Speaker 9:                              Yeah, hi Fiona.

Fiona:                                        You wanna talk about tennis officials.

Speaker 9:                              Well just the game itself, the way the game is run. The chap that you just had on speaking.

Fiona:                                        He’s a psychologist.

Speaker 9:                              Yeah yeah the psychologist chap, yeah. He was talking about the fact that youngsters make a lot of money early in their lives out of tennis and golf. But the world of golf runs the game way differently than tennis because if you behaved in any slight manner that these young men are behaving in you would be rubbed out for five to 10 years or life.

Fiona:                                        Would you? I’ve seen them throwing their golf sticks around.

Speaker 9:                              No they don’t. No they don’t because they’re taught from the very beginning that you are not bigger than the game, you are just an individual and you can make a good living here so behave yourself or we will chuck you out.

Fiona:                                        Okay. I’m sure I’ve seen, my dad spends hours watching sport and I’m sure I’ve seen them throwing their golf sticks. I don’t watch a lot so I can’t be sure.

Speaker 9:                              No they never do.

Fiona:                                        Never do?

Speaker 9:                              No it is not allowed at all. You throw a golf club or you abuse an official, you’re out.

Fiona:                                        Okay.

Speaker 9:                              And tennis is gutless.

Fiona:                                        Okay Peter good to hear from you.

Speaker 9:                              See you Fi.

Fiona:                                        Thank you. From Peter Port McCory, McEnroe was a tennis brat ’til his late years. Nick Curious is starting early with bad behavior, he needs a long holiday. Dawn’s comments are correct says Peter. Re the ill-tempered sports people, the various sports codes need to simply not accept bad behavior as we heard from Peter in Nambucca Heads about the golf. And have the person leave the court or the field. This is the same principle as domestic violence. As long as the victim remains the behavior is being accepted and inadvertently condoned. Cease to accept the behavior and you will teach better behavior much quicker. This behavior is unacceptable on a court or field or anywhere in society. No work place would accept it and this is the sports person’s workplace. Liz in Winona, thank you very much for joining in the discussion this afternoon here on ABC News South Wales.